The Grey Bruce Health Unit's budget for 2013 is just under $11.4 million – up 1.99% from 2012.
Most of the increase goes toward wages and benefits, said medical officer of health Dr. Hazel Lynn. After a couple of years of wage freezes for unionized staff, they're now seeing an increase of 2.5%, although management and non-unionized staff will not be getting a similar wage increase, she said.
Pension and insurance contributions are higher for the coming year, as are operating costs such as transportation and utilities, Lynn said.
“We're constantly watching for any overruns, so transportation, if something goes up, then we need to go after that,” she said. “Those kinds of things we are being really careful with. We really don't have a lot of extra stuff that we can cut out.”
Some of the warranties on the building are up now, Lynn said, meaning money has to be set aside for maintenance and repairs.
The health unit is funded 75% by the province and 25% by Grey and Bruce counties, although certain programs, such as vaccines and tobacco programs, are 100% funded by the province.
Dental care provided by the health unit for children living in poverty has surged in popularity over the past year.
One of the programs, Healthy Smiles Ontario, is for children under 17 living in homes with an income of under $20,000 and no dental coverage. It provides services like cleaning, filling cavities and regular maintenance. Children In Need of Treatment (CINOT) is for urgent dental care for children under 17 who have no dental plan and their parent or guardian is unable to pay for them to get help.
Last year, dental care at the health unit was $40,000 over what was projected. It now has a $78,000 dedicated budget.
“I suspect as money gets tighter, dental isn't something that's a necessity in many peoples' minds,” Lynn said of the growing need for CINOT and Healthy Smiles. “So it gets left behind. It's a great program, it really is.”
Lynn said dental health is important to a person's overall health, socially as well as physically.
“It's hugely important because it's part of our defence against disease, and if it joins the other side, you're constantly spewing your system with the bacteria that are forming the abscess or the cavities in your teeth.”
The health unit is also reorganizing some of its management structure. The area has been divided up into four geographic quadrants, with public health teams responsible for each quadrant. Starting in January, management will also be divided up into quadrants to oversee the teams.
“We've been trying to do a little bit of this all along, but I think this is the final sort of step in really having people embedding a lot of the programs and the directions in those municipalities – schools, businesses – in those areas,” Lynn said. “It's too big an area to do from one place.”
It will be reassessed in about three months.
The public board of health has a new chair. Mike Smith from Saugeen Shores takes over from Owen Sound's Arlene Wright. Vice chair will be The Blue Mountains' Duncan McKinlay. The faces of the rest of the board stay the same except for one. Mitch Twolan of Huron-Kinloss replaces Northern Bruce Peninsula's Milt McIvor.
Other board members include David Inglis, Bob Pringle, Kevin Eccles, Gary Levine and Chris Griffin.
The board is made up of provincial appointees, representatives from Grey and Bruce, and a cross-board member from the Grey Bruce Health Services board. There is one vacancy, which is yet to be filled by the province.